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Internet Safety Series – Cyber Bullying

As if there wasn’t enough to worry about when growing up, today’s kids are facing some groundbreaking issues in their adolescence with the presence of the internet and social networking. While social networking platforms like email, Facebook, Twitter and texting can mean a world of fun and socialising for young adults, it has opened up a whole new realm for bullying and harassment.

The worst part is parents and teachers often can’t detect cases of cyber bullying until it is too late because unlike physical bullying, the effect on the student is not often visible. The ability for students to harass, stalk, impersonate or isolate other students has become much easier through anonymous online means. Nasty text messages, blogs, website defamation, gaming, ‘sexting’, spam, and impersonation are just a few of the techniques that have become available in recent years. Far from schoolyard bullying, cyber bullying is a 24/7 torment for the victims, continuing when they leave the school grounds to the home, the study, and the bedroom.

A few notorious cases have shown the potential of cyber bullying:

Megan Meier – The story of a troubled 13-year-old who became the target of cyber bullying from a school friend and her mother. The mother, Lori Drew, created a false Myspace account under the name of Josh Evans – a 16-year-old home-schooled boy – in order to gain Megan’s trust and in turn use it to humiliate her. The correspondence quickly went from a cute online relationship to online bullying, resulting in Megan’s suicide just three weeks before her fourteenth birthday. This case led to the unanimous passing of the Megan Meier Cyber-bullying Prevention Act.

Another case has shown the potential of cyber harrassment, and the risks the come with children portraying the wrong image of themselves online.

Jesse Slaughter – You may or may not have heard about this 11-year-old who voiced her opinions on Youtube, to quickly become the subject of extensive cyber harrassment. So much so, she wound up in protective custody. Users were able to access her personal details including her home address, Myspace and Facebook profiles,making her life difficult and very public. Jesse Slaughter’s case was one of the most drawn out cases of cyber abuse and highlights the need for parents to be wise to their children’s activities online.

While it may seem like a difficult task, it is important to let your children know they’re able to come to you with issues. Teach them to “stop, block and tell” – stop the communication with the bully, block them from whatever medium they’re using, and tell a trusted adult. Reinforce that their internet privileges will not be taken away should they come to you with a problem. Create a home ‘internet contract’, setting out mutually decided codes of conduct online. Maybe keep mobile phone switched off and on the kitchen bench at bedtime. Ask your school about their cyber bullying policies. Finally, friend your own kids on Facebook (although keep off their wall and resist any urges to be more embarrassing than they already think you are!

If you would like to learn more on this issue, hit up StopCyberbullying or the new government initiative The Line.

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